Steve in Citrus Heights is a pretty smart guy, but he’s not quite in the know when it comes to smart thermostats and the Internet of Things. So, he’s come to us for some expert HVAC advice. He says:
“I was at my brother’s house recently and he was showing off a new piece of tech that he’d installed. He called it a smart thermostat, and he started listing all of the ways he expects it to improve how he heats and cools his house. Now, I work in the tech sector, and I’m pretty savvy when it comes to new gadgets, but part of being smart about something is admitting what you don’t know—and I’m totally in the dark when it comes to remote home monitoring and smart thermostats.
Not that I don’t trust my brother, but what I want to know is, to be blunt, are smart thermostats worth it? What are the biggest benefits they provide over regular thermostats, and how much should I expect to pay to have one installed in my house? Thanks! Sincerely, Smart Guy Steve.”
No, thank you for writing, Smart Guy Steve. This is a topic I get a lot of questions about, especially in the middle of summer when we’ve got the Northern Californian sun pounding down on us and folks are starting to see higher electric bills because they’ve been running their AC all day long to keep cool. I think that maybe we could all stand to get a little smarter when it comes to the benefits of smart thermostats.
What Exactly Is a Smart Thermostat?
For homeowners like Smart Guy Steve to find the answer to the question, “Are smart thermostats worth it?” he first needs to know exactly what he’s dealing with. The IoT seems to be taking over home management, with everything from connected water purification systems to remote monitoring of HVAC units. But smart thermostats are still relatively new tech, invented within the past decade, and my general impression is that public awareness of them is somewhat muddled. What, then, is the difference between a smart thermostat and the standard, old-school thermostats you’ve always used?
A smart thermostat performs many of the same functions as a standard thermostat, but it’s connected to the internet, too, so users can adjust its settings from other devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or even watches.
Well, think of the old phone you had growing up versus the smartphone you now use to do just about everything. It’s a similar situation. A smart thermostat performs many of the same functions as a standard thermostat, but it’s connected to the internet, too, so users can adjust its settings from other devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or even watches. Smart thermostats have some other advanced features as well, like collecting data and analytics on when and how long your HVAC system runs.
The Benefits of Smart Thermostats for Homeowners
Now that you know what a smart thermostat is, let’s get into the benefits that they offer. The two major advantages they offer homeowners, especially in a place like Citrus Heights where brutal summers mean high AC use, are:
- More precise control of your HVAC system
- Automation of your thermostat’s functions
But these advantages don’t really tell homeowners like Smart Guy Steve anything specific about how a smart thermostat would benefit his everyday life. With that in mind, let’s break these down into a more practical list:
- Control your home’s temperature from anywhere: Use your phone, smartwatch, or tablet to adjust the temperature at home while you’re out (you know, in case you occasionally forget to turn it off when you leave). Having this ability can cut down on times when your HVAC is running unnecessarily, which will save you money and prolong the life of your AC unit or furnace.
- Set alerts and email notifications: You can program a smart thermostat to send you an email notification so that if your house gets too warm or too cold, you can decide whether or not to raise or lower your thermostat from anywhere. You can also use this feature to ensure that your home is already comfortable when you arrive, without wasting energy while you are out and about at the Sunrise Farmers Market in Citrus Heights.
- Remove the human element: You know how cruise control in your car can save you money on gas because sudden, unnecessary acceleration burns more fuel? Well, your AC and furnace are susceptible to the same thing. A smart thermostat, though, can learn your schedule and preferences, and then drop or raise the temperature in your home only when it’s needed.
- Analyze energy use: One of the easiest ways to lower your energy bill—as well as your carbon footprint—is by monitoring it in real time. Raised awareness can show you exactly what you need to do to keep your HVAC from wasting energy and raising your summer electric bill costs.
- Ease of use: Nearly every homeowner I know tells me that smart thermostats are easier to use than simple programmable thermostats because they allow for more customization, options, and control.
- Maintenance alerts: I’ve talked a lot in the past about the ten signs your AC may need repair, as well as the importance of an annual AC maintenance check, but I know that for many homeowners life is hectic, and the health of your HVAC system is not always your top priority. With a smart thermostat, though, you can get notifications telling you when it’s time to call your friendly HVAC specialist to come out and service your system.
So, Are Smart Thermostats Worth It?
Now that we’ve gotten smarter about the benefits they provide, it’s time to answer the big question: are smart thermostats worth it? In my experience, there are two types of homeowners when it comes to this question: the type that can be swayed by the convenience, and then the type that will only invest if it’s going to save them cash.
If you’re the type who will decide on whether you should get a smart thermostat based on the convenience it adds to your life, you’ve probably already opted to get one based on the list above. There’s no debate; smart thermostats are far more convenient than their counterparts. So, that leaves those who will decide based on their bottom lines.
As more smart thermostat companies enter the market, the price of the tech has—and will continue to—drop.
As more smart thermostat companies enter the market, the price of the tech has—and will continue to—drop. These days, you can get a cutting-edge smart thermostat for around $250. That’s not that much in the HVAC world, but it is a bit steep considering a normal thermostat runs about $25. In other words, to recoup your investment you need to save about $225 on your energy bills.
If you ask me, most smart thermostats will reduce your heating and cooling bills so much that you’ll make this money back within the first year or two, tops, meaning this is a worthwhile investment for busy folks, as well as anyone who has struggled in the past to keep up with a maintenance schedule or learn to program their HVAC. Smart thermostats may also be especially valuable in places like Citrus Heights where ACs are on high alert in the summer months, cranking up electric bills.
If you ask me, most smart thermostats will reduce your heating and cooling bills so much that you’ll make this money back within the first year or two, tops…
I must, however, caution you that a smart thermostat is a difficult piece of tech to install yourself. It deals with electricity, which always presents a danger for a DIY project, and there’s a high margin of error in the installation process. Since precision is one of the key reasons homeowners like Smart Guy Steve are interested in this tech, I highly recommend taking no chances and leaving the installation to a trained and experienced HVAC professional.
Who knows what’s next for HVAC technology; nobody really saw smart thermostats coming 20 or 30 years ago. Maybe our next big invention will be, I don’t know, HVAC systems that can tell your body temperature and make adjustments based on that. Hey, that’s not a bad idea. In fact, it’d probably be smart if I kept that one to myself.
Make your HVAC system smarter today. Contact the trained professionals at Bell Brothers to find a smart thermostat that’s right for your home.
Image courtesy Unsplash user Nick Jio